Is This Not The Carpenter?: The Question of the Historicity of the Figure of Jesus (Copenhagen International Seminar) Paperback – 18 Aug 2014
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'An important example of what we need more of: serious scholarly examinations and debates on the historicity of Jesus and what methods to use in resolving it. It includes papers that for specialists are required reading on this topic.' --Richard Carrier, author of 'Proving History: Bayes's Theorem and the Quest for the Historical Jesus'.
'Marks an important milestone in the debate concerning mythicism in New Testament scholarship.' --Thomas Bolin, St Norbert College, Wisconsin, USA
'This volume contributes to a crucial development, namely moving historical investigation beyond the usual restrictions of the historical critical method, particularly beyond reliance on the theory of oral tradition, and bringing it into new terrain, especially that of literature.' --Thomas L. Brodie, Dominican Biblical Institute, Limerick
About the Author
Thomas L. Thompson is Professor emeritus, University of Copenhagen.
Thomas S. Verenna is an independent researcher and student at Rutgers University.
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This is a book for people with a serious interest in the arguments for the myth hypothesis, The contributors provide the all important scholarly references which point readers in the direction of additional source material, or further clarify points the writers are making, or the reasons why. I found it of value that these reference appear at the bottom of the pages rather than be grouped at the read or the papers or the book. A general index would have been of value, although there is an index of references and one of authors.
Essentially, a book intended, I suspect, for hostile academics and one to be read thoughtfully in order to appreciate the impact of its arguments.
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Some of the chapters provide background to the scholarship, such as 19th century debates and how the ways things were argued had much to thank from its cultural background. The last chapter provides a research paradigm to discuss the evolution of Christianity whether or not Jesus existed or did any of the things he was alleged to have done. In between we find some of the discussions about the nature of the evidence concerning the figure of Jesus: the letters of Paul and their relation to a historical figure, the non-Christian witnesses to Jesus, and literary nature of the Gospels. While not all of the arguments will be convincing, the chapters showcase some of the best arguments one is likely to see from either side.
Of course, because of the complexity of the evidence, any one of the discussions in a given chapter could be its own book. But that is why this volume needs to be the start of the discussion. Not only on points of evidence but also of method. The approach to the letters of Paul, for example, can produce very different results concerning a historical Jesus figure. Weighing which approach is the better (rather than just getting the desired result) is going to be a major dialogue, but it does well to start it here.
I provide a fuller review here: [...]
Since this volume is now in paperback it is affordable to a large audience. Some chapters may require more background in biblical studies to understand and appreciate, but it seems to me that it is accessible to those that are interested in a subject that almost certainly will remain of interest to scholars and laypeople alike: who was Jesus, if he was at all?
portrayals of Jesus of Nazareth has occupied a strange place in the history of New Testament scholarship.
On the one hand, those who argued that Jesus is a fictional creation of the evangelists were long
ostracized from both the academy and the church (two entities with multiple overlapping constituencies).
On the other hand, the question at the root of mythicist project is the same that underlies much of
mainstream New Testament scholarship, namely how much early Christian theological concerns have
influenced the content of the canonical Gospels.
This collection represents the best discussion of this issue now available. Both established and up
and coming scholars from around the world address the mythicist question from a variety of different
perspectives and methodologies. Most importantly, the individual contributions are not uniform in their
conclusions concerning the historicity of Jesus. Some scholars argue for the existence of Jesus of
Nazareth (e.g., Grabbe, Müller), others against (e.g., Noll, Price), and still others opt not to decide (e.g.,
Thompson, Verenna). Two important features to this collection are the group of essays focusing on the
role of the Pauline corpus in the debate over the historicity of Jesus and the critical interaction in several
of the essays with Richard Bauckham's recent large monograph arguing for an eyewitness tradition
behind the canonical Gospels.
Space prohibits a detailed discussion of each essay, and thus a few remarks on some of the more
particularly interesting and provocative contributions will have to suffice. Roland Boer's retrieval of the
role of history, religion and the state in Germany in the historical Jesus debate in 19th Century Germany
("The German Pestilence: Re-assessing Feuerbach, Strauss and Bauer") makes clear the long shadows
cast by the fierce intellectual conflicts surrounding the Tübingen School. It should be read in tandem with
Michael Legaspi's excellent study of the rise of historical critical scholarship in the Old Testament at
Göttingen in the late 18th Century (The Death of Scripture and the Rise of Biblical Studies [Oxford/New
York: Oxford University Press, 2010) for the proper historical causes of the present shape of critical
biblical studies. Thomas Verenna's analysis of whether Paul need have known anything about a historical
Jesus in order to construct his theology is an outstanding discussion of Pauline texts, relevant Greco-
Roman parallels, and careful historical methodology. Joshua Sabih, a Qur'anic scholar, offers a
fascinating discussion of the material about Jesus in the Qur'an, and makes a well-argued for this material
to be independent of anything in the Christian tradition. Sabih's essay should spur biblical exegetes to do
more in looking at Qur'anic texts alongside the Bible, part of the larger comparative project called for by
Jonathan Z. Smith some four years ago ("Religion and Bible," JBL 128  5-27). The final essay in
the volume, that of Kurt Noll ("Investigating Earliest Christianity without Jesus") is a fascinating exercise
in imagining how Christianity could have succeeded without there being a Jesus. Noll draws upon
Darwinian evolutionary thought, as filtered through Richard Dawkins' notion of memes to construct an
alternative history of the rise of Christianity, and regardless of where one stands on the issue of Jesus'
historicity, Noll's reconstruction will have to be reckoned with.
This well-edited and attractive volume marks an important milestone in the debate concerning
mythicism in New Testament scholarship, and it is to be hoped that others like it will follow.